Colts Prospect: RB Clifton Dawson

The Colts desperately need an inside runner and an insurance policy in case Joseph Addai goes down (as he frequently did in college). Since both the draft and free agency yielded a goose egg, all eyes are on Harvard whiz kid Clifton Dawson.

Clifton Dawson RB Harvard

Numbers: 5095/214, 4.54 forty, 2.62 twenty, 1.54 ten, 18 reps, 38 vertical, 9'7 long, 4.16 shuttle, 6.98 cone

2006 stats: 237-1213-20 rushing, 24-239-1 receiving, 2-116-1 kick returns, 2 tackles

The Player: People often talk about a player's love of the game. He'll play with so much gusto that they say "this kid sure loves the game of football." For the most part, they're right. But there's always a nagging doubt. I love football, but I'm sure that I'd love it a lot more if my options were an eight-figure contract from the Dolphins or an $8-an-hour gig in the Wal-Mart plumbing department in Iowa.

But there's no doubting Dawson's love of the game. See, this kid has an economics degree from Harvard. And he's bright and personable and charismatic. I know from experience that he could walk into any brokerage firm and make an enviable living without the threat of 320-pound monsters trying to tear his head off. It's a good life on Wall Street, it really is. But for some reason, Dawson would rather tote the rock.

Morgan Stanley's loss (at least for now) is the NFL's gain. Dawson is a total gamer who holds pretty much every football record Harvard deems worthy of keeping. He ran over and around every defender in the Ivy League and also showed an ability to catch and block with, I hate to say it, but the only appropriate word is elegance.

It's really hard to tell much about Dawson's NFL future from tapes of his Ivy League games because he looked like a man among boys there. What is apparent is that he's mostly a one-cut runner, who fares better inside sorting through traffic than trying to turn the corner outside. He picks his holes well and has great patience, waiting for the play to develop before he makes a commitment. He has the body lean to make guys miss and the agility to change his mind when necessary. While he lacks the extra gear to get wild in the secondary, Dawson has the leg drive, determination and vision to be very effective inside, even on short-yardage situations. Best of all, he holds onto the ball.

He's a polished route runner with soft hands, though he doesn't really present a matchup problem for NFL linebackers or safeties because of his lack of speed. A willing and intuitive blocker, Dawson nullified the blitz effectively in college, but may not have the butt to do so in the NFL.

The bottom line on Dawson is that if he did what he did at Ohio State or Florida (or even Louisville) instead of Harvard, he'd be an easy first-day pick. But then, those schools don't offer economics degrees with quite as much heft.

Reminds me of: Domanick Williams (the former Domanick Davis), who ran for a lot of yards with the woeful Houston Texans before he was felled by injuries. Both are short, stocky backs with quick moves who make their living finding holes in the middle and turning desperation outlet passes into hard-fought yards.

How he fits: the Colts are thinner at running back than many believe. Although Joseph Addai had a remarkable rookie season, he was injury-prone in college and there's little reason to expect he won't be in the pros. His primary backups are tiny scatbacks DeDe Dorsey and Kenton Keith. While both have big-play ability, neither is workhorse type and Keith has a history of fumbling. There's also plodding Luke Lawton, but he's already been cut by five NFL teams and figures more as a blocker and special-teamer than a runner.

Barring a veteran free-agent signing (and now that Kevan Barlow is a Steeler, that's looking less and less likely), Dawson has an honest shot at the Colts' No. 2 spot.

Watch the preseason very closely. Addai will get almost no playing time, while Dawson will battle Dorsey and Keith for carries. Judging by his college performance, I won't expect Dawson to be looking for a job in September.


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